Break-Up or Make-Up?
When Family, Friends, and Acquaintances Spread Disinformation on Social Media
I got attacked on social media.
It finally happened. It was something I had purposely tried to avoid for the longest time.
There were many reasons I did not want to get into a debate (really, more like a pissing match) with someone on Facebook. For one, having launched a business recently, I tried to stay away from politics. And it was not politics that started it. Unfortunately, “making a point or commenting” on anything these days means taking a political side. My business was new and handicapped because of the pandemic, and I wanted to appeal to a broader audience, careful about not offending my followers. Let’s not forget the many examples of ridicule and personal attacks on social media that had gotten out of hand because of, well… ignorance. I was not sure if I was ready to face that (or wanted to).
An acquaintance posted a link to a video, praising the group and the message within. Coming from Breitbart as the source, I figured to approach this with some caution. I watched the video. It was about a group of doctors who claimed hydroxychloroquine to be the cure for Covid-19, criticized lock-down measures, and called for schools to reopen, and for people to stop wearing face masks.
I tried to do a search on the validity of this clip right away but was unable to find anything on the typical fact-checking websites. I let it go.
The next day, I came across an article from the Huffington Post about that video clip.
Factcheck.org also debunked the story as false.
Then, my acquaintance reposted the video. His original post had been taken down by Facebook, so he wanted to make sure to reshare.
I had given him the benefit of doubt.
I had given him the opportunity to check the facts.
I decided to take a stand for the truth. I posted only the link to the Huffington Post article into the comments. And just like that, we were off to the races, and it got ugly quickly. The first comment was that ‘I should be ashamed of myself, having come from another country and having hate for our President. And what had I ever done to serve this country?’ Wow, okay, so this is what my link had said about me. My intent had been to point out the spread of misinformation. And he came back with that? My response was neutral, stating that ‘We have a patriotic duty to fact-check on both sides of the political spectrum’.
Of course, it did not end there. A newcomer introduced himself by calling out my extremely left leaning bias (based on the Huffington Post link). It is an assumption that can be made, and I should have given more thought on which link to post. Or maybe I had. I guess I had it coming.
But it still did not change the fact that the video was created based on misinformation.
I’ll summarize the remaining comments:
Hydroxychloroquine is the best treatment with a proven recovery rate, “they” are covering up the facts, I was taking benefits, many men and women had died for this country, and I wanted people to die from Covid-19 by refusing them access to the drug.
Apologies, I am still a bit stuck on the taking-benefits part as I cannot figure out what exactly he was insinuating. His statement was vague, but his wife is also an immigrant. Did he forget?
Here is the thing: My point was about the construct of the video clip. About sharing things without verifying their validity. Neither my acquaintance nor his commenting friend ever got that, even though I kept telling them that they had missed the point (I wasn’t specific on what they had missed out on as I had hoped that they would engage their minds to figure it out themselves). They kept coming back to my unwillingness to want to share hydroxychloroquine with the dying, calling me unpatriotic along the way.
How did It End?
In my final comment to comments, I spelled out the point I was trying to make.
‘Of course, the press is Marxist, and we can’t take our news from the internet’ – was the response. Wait? Remind me again: what had he done with that video clip and where it had come from?
What should we do when people we know spread misinformation?
Should we idly sit by?
Should we unfriend them?
Should we confront them?
It depends. You will need to make your own choice considering your circumstances and the offending party. You will know (or you will learn).
I had to (finally) speak up. Misinformation is NOT okay. With so many outlets fact-checking things nowadays, we have no excuses to blindly believe any news story.
If you are posting something with questionable content, then you are either doing it out of chosen ignorance or because you are deliberately trying to spread false information.
Either way, it just shows how ignorant you are (and then some).
The emotional impact
Getting into these pissing matches is draining.
Especially when the attacks go against your character.
Here is the modus operandi for people who deliberately spread misinformation: The best defense is an offense. Brace yourself. This will get personal, there will be bullying and shaming, and you may want to cry or punch someone.
It would be easier to give up (and at some point, you have to for your sanity and because you do not want to be like them and become a belligerent philistine). You will be called the looser either way: if you stop commenting or leave the post altogether, they will consider you weak. You have waved the flag of surrender, allowing self-proclamation of the predictable winner(s).
You tried; you did your part. Move on.
Even more so today.
I can envision our country sliding down that slippery slope to a one-party dictatorship or some other authoritarian type of totalitarian government if we remain too complacent with the misrepresentation of facts.
I grew up in a country where things once escalated very quickly from a “Germany first” slogan into raging Nazism. History is known to repeat itself.
I implore you to speak up while we still can.
At least try it once. For a moment, I must admit, I enjoyed battling it out. I take pride that I did not make it personal in return. It was not easy.
What about my business?
In the end, it was a no brainer:
How can I say that I am an advocate for women’s rights when I don’t do anything about the many ignorant people who use a political agenda to excuse the bullying of women, blacks, veterans, immigrants, and religions?
I will not be a hypocrite, and if that means my business will suffer financially because I will appear to have chosen a political side, then it is a price I am willing to pay.
I had no choice but to become vocal in an ethical movement that has turned political. Equality, humanity, and decency should not have any political affiliation.
As a country, we are confused about human values. You do not have to go to church or belong to a political party to be a decent person and patriot.
We can agree that we will not agree all the time. If you grasp that concept—and are okay with it—congratulations, that is all you need to manage when it comes to expectations. In fact, that should be your end goal when going into arguments with family and friends. If both arguing parties can agree to disagree, it is a major win.
Do not count on agreeing to disagree with your family though. Emotions run deep; the risks are high. Remember, you cannot “unfamily” them. Nor should you. My advice here, if you cannot be civil, avoid any moral or political discussions (since they seem to be the same). You may only speak about the weather, which cannot be influenced or corrupted.
If things go south, request a cease-fire, and if that does not work, it may be best to leave or ask them to leave. Love them – for they are partisan to just one side of the coin. Resistance is futile.
Unfriending an acquaintance is much easier (and could be healthier).
I personally want to know who is ignorant in my inner circle (helps me deal with them), so I do not break any connections.
I am bigger than that. Plus, I owe it to me and them to evaluate the facts that are being presented as a reminder that I am not like them. At the least, I will know how they formed their viewpoints.
Chances are, if you have called someone out on social media, they will unfriend or block you before the night is out. Their loss. Move on.
The only winners in the United States with such division and extremes are those who are greedy and stand to benefit from a torn country. The United States, founded by immigrants for immigrants, has failed to uphold the diversity and equality across all lines that once made it so attractive to others: color, gender, race, religion. We are either this or that to the extreme. No middle ground.
I encourage you to stand up for the truth.
Yet, know that your chances of converting anyone to accept a broader viewpoint are almost non-existent. You are not doing it for them; you are doing it for you. Well, and them since that is what a democracy is all about.
And it is the democracy we must keep.
Thanks for reading! I’m Petra, and I’m an author, speaker, and women’s advocate.
If you want to know why some people will never accept another viewpoint, then check out this article from Bobby Azarian, Ph.D., who is a cognitive neuroscientist and science writer in the Washington, D.C. area. While this Psychology Today article is from 2016, prior to the general election, it is still relevant. It addresses Trump’s supporters unwavering solidarity (it is a psychology issue, not a political issue – until it becomes a political issue). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201609/the-psychology-behind-donald-trumps-unwavering-support
This article was originally published at Raw Story.